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Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses threaten human and animal health yet their emergence is poorly understood, partly because sampling of the HPAI Asian-origin H5N1 lineage immediately after its identification in 1996 was comparatively sparse. The discovery of a novel H5N8 virus in 2013 provides a new opportunity to investigate HPAI emergence in greater detail. Here we investigate the origin and transmission of H5N8 in the Republic of Korea, the second country to report the new strain. We reconstruct viral spread using phylogeographic methods and interpret the results in the context of ecological data on poultry density, overwintering wild bird numbers, and bird migration patterns. Our results indicate that wild waterfowl migration and domestic duck density were important to H5N8 epidemiology. Specifically, we infer that H5N8 entered the Republic of Korea via Jeonbuk province, then spread rapidly among western provinces where densities of overwintering waterfowl and domestic ducks are higher, yet rarely persisted in eastern regions. The common ancestor of H5N8 in the Republic of Korea was estimated to have arrived during the peak of inward migration of overwintering birds. Recent virus isolations likely represent re-introductions via bird migration from an as-yet unsampled reservoir. Based on the limited data from outside the Republic of Korea, our data suggest that H5N8 may have entered Europe at least twice, and Asia at least three times from this reservoir, most likely carried by wild migrating birds.

Original publication




Journal article


Infection, genetics and evolution : journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases

Publication Date





267 - 277


Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.


Animals, Ducks, Influenza A virus, Poultry Diseases, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Animal Migration, Disease Outbreaks, Phylogeny, Genes, Viral, Influenza in Birds, Republic of Korea, Molecular Typing, Phylogeography